We had our tickets bought, overnight case packed, our meals booked, and the B and B and friend and family all waiting for us in Bristol and, me, being on half-term hols, am able to pick Dave up from a 3pm flexi-time finish at work, and off we vroom, Bristol bound.
In sorry retrospect, if there is ever one time not to be enroute to Bristol from further down the West Country, it’s at 3-4 pm at the end of the Whitsun half-term week. As we saw the 40mph queue signs pop up just shy of Junction 27 on the M5, with no visible queuing going on, we were hopeful that all blockages had already cleared and that our 6.30pm meet to eat time was going to be without problem…hmmm.
Needless to say, huge queues from Junction 27 to 21 caused us major delays, lots of wear and tear on my clutch foot, and via phone calls we had to let our B and B and friend/family know that we were running WAY behind and that we’d get there as soon as we could.
Luckily getting parked on street just a few yards from the B and B we dropped our things, made much needed loo stops (after four hours in the car!!) and legged it out of the door, where, via foot and a hastily grabbed taxi, we finally landed at Riproar’s new venue, the Steam Cafe Bar. Two of my sons (who live and work in Bristol) were joining us, and were waiting outside the venue as we ran around the corner. They had been denied entry under our name until the management had sorted out our booking as there had been a slight misunderstanding with the numbers. Our friend Mario was already inside waiting for us.
We soon had the numbers misunderstanding sorted out and I was very glad to see that the veggie food option in our in our meal inclusive ticket was also vegan! Dave’s chilli wasn’t hot enough for him but he does like his spicy food VERY spicy. Everyone else seemed happy with what they had and to be honest, after the struggle we’d had to get there, just to be sat down with food in our stomachs and drinks in hand, was the biggest relief of all … and soon we were off into the comedy space itself, quite a big room which was well filled.
Our MC for the night was (once again!) Cerys Nelmes, who fulfilled her warm up role as well as ever…Cerys will go where many comics fear to tread and was soon chatting up both a dad AND his son, much to the punters’ amazement.
Our opening act Andy White was a model of observation and wee stories. He also gave us accents, impersonations, black jokes (yes, he is) and lots of laughs. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Andy and he’s come on in leaps. A great opener.
Mark Palmer, our middle spot was also a safe bet. I loved his bungee jumping story. He is a clean mouthed breath of fresh air and I’d like to see him again!
Now onto our headliner, Mike Gunn. It’s only been a few weeks since we saw Mike at Jongleurs in Southampton, where due to mic failures and Mike having to be elsewhere on a double upper, he had a very hard gig. This time around, Mike was able to show himself as the brilliant comic he really is, with some deliciously dark material and some great one liners. Other pieces around his wife, kids, public loo attendants and bingo (more naughtiness!) had the crowd, and us all, very happy indeed.
And so the first night of our two night mini comedy fest was at an end…saying goodbye to friend and family, we wandered home, on legs fuelled by several beers and ciders, staring in wonderment at the large fox we met on the way back to our B and B (he was quite happily heading for the city centre!)
Saturday morning dawned bright, and far too early; I’d set my alarm for silly o’clock to be up in time for an early morning jog along the banks of the Avon before we headed off for a quick tour around Glastonbury and Wells ahead of our evening gig there. It amused me on checking the route later, that the trail along the opposite side of the river was called The Chocolate Path!
Back to the B and B, showered, dressed and off we went towards Glastonbury for a wander. It didn’t take us long, parking was at a premium and we had to move the car to another, well hidden carpark after a short while. Paying extra for parking, then finding out there really wasn’t much more to see was mildly irritating – Glastonbury seems to have been taken over by crystal sellers and opportunistic people making money off of others who are lost and confused.
With time to fill, we headed towards the village of Street just a few miles away for some brunch and a few charity shops. Then back to Wells for more exploration and some dinner. Thank goodness for Wetherspoons – I know lots of people knock them, but for a dependable dinner when in a strange place (vegan curry!) at a reasonable price, it’s hard to beat.
Finally we could get into our venue, The Little Theatre, where they were celebrating ten years of monthly comedy nights. Just inside the foyer were some large boards with pictures of all the comics who had played there, and there were some big names! We discovered, from talking to the founder’s mum, that the comedy nights started when her son, a local Sixth Former at the time, decided to organise a regular comedy event and ten years on – here we were!
This night was the penultimate of the Wells mini festival, and we had a lovely line-up to look forward to: Tiernan Douieb MCing, Alun Cochrane opening, Lazy Susan in the middle and ooohhh, headlining, the never knowingly less than barnstorming, Nick Helm.
Having to quickly knock back the rest of my glass of red and stow the bottle (we didn’t know we couldn’t take drinks into the auditorium!) we were soon sat down at the front ( we were never going to be too far away from the front with Nick on the bill) of a very full house.
First up Tiernan, in MC role; such a cheeky chappy and has MCing down to a T. No problems there, has the confidence to get on with it and does just that.
Alun Cochrane, our opener, is such an understated act, it’s hard to appreciate just how much effort goes into each line of material. Scots born (sorry, had to get that bit in), he delivers off the cuff, to the point remarks, which are brilliant in their brevity and leave you thinking, completely mistakenly, that comedy is easy. It’s not. He’s just very, very clever (and funny!)
No break (yesss! we were keen not to be running too late as it was going to be a long drive home) and straight into Lazy Susan – a two woman act from the Surreal School of Sketch – right up our street. Several short pieces kept half the audience completely puzzled and the other half in stitches. Surreality can be a bit Marmite for some – and we would like a bit more!
Interval time (quick retreat to the bar for some more out of that bottle!) and a short chat with some locals (who had nipped to the Tescos round the corner for icecreams!) and then back in for The Helmster.
Nick Helm, (the one man mega myth) is his own best promoter. Comedian, songwriter, actor, Nick is a talented man. Coming across as loudly self advertising through his songs and one liners, he sends himself up so well that the less switched on punter may think he really means it! His legendary opening line “D’you like jokes? D’you like jokes? D’you like jokes?” yelled at some hapless audience member at extreme close range, and repeated loudly in their face until said audience member gives him some sort of answer – and Nick will NOT stop till he gets what he wants, is not only expected, but we’d be disappointed if we didn’t get it!
Boom, boom, crotch thrusting one liners mixed with a complete lack of embarrassment at stripping off on stage (quite often to extremely sad and saggy looking Y-fronts or even less!) are all part of Nick’s act – and if you’ve not seen Nick perform before, you might think this is the whole show, when suddenly he breaks out the guitar and gives us a song from his brilliant repertoire, which is equally self indulgent and extremely funny. We’ve seen Nick do a Two NIght Stand at the Grand, a musical event at the Pleasance’s largest venue in Edinburgh, packed out, and it was fabulous. Tonight he is as good as ever.